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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                  249
clipped, ugly fingernails. How could he explain to him?
Would he understand? Did he know what an air battle
was? Perhaps he had never heard a shot fired in his life.
Restraining himself with all his might, he asked in a low
voice:
"What am I to do, then?"
The major shrugged his shoulders and answered:
"If you insist, I can send you to the commission of the
Formations Department. But I warn you beforehand,
nothing will come of it."
"To hell with it then, send me to the commission!1'
gasped Meresyev, collapsing into a chair.
Then commenced his wanderings from office to office.
Weary officials, up to their neck in work, listened to what
he had to say, expressed surprise and sympathy and help-
lessly shrugged their shoulders. Indeed, what could they
do? They had their instructions, very good instructions,
endorsed by the High Command, and there were the time-
hallowed traditions of the service—how could they violate
them? And in such an obvious case too! They were all
sincerely sorry for this irrepressible, disabled man who
longed to go back into the fighting line, and none of them
had the heart to give him a definite refusal; so they sent
him from the Personnel Department to the Formations
Department, from desk to desk, and each, out of pity,
sent him to a commission.
Meresyev was no longer put out either by refusals or
admonitions, or by humiliating sympathy and condescen-
sion, against which his proud soul revolted. He learnt to
keep himself in hand, acquired the tone of the solicitor,
and although some days he met with as many as two or
three refusals, he would not give up hope. The magazine
clipping and the Army Surgeon's certificate became so
worn from being constantly taken from his pocket that
they tore at the creases and he was obliged to stick them
together with tape.
The hardships of his wanderings were aggravated ^ by
the fact that while waiting for an answer he was living
without an allowance, The provisions with which he had
been supplied by the sanatorium had been consumed. True,
the old couple in Anyuta's apartment, with whom he had
become fast friends, seeing that he no longer cooked any